I again observe that one of the great benefits of living here is meeting a remarkable array of talented and interesting people. For example, this winter I've met three individuals who have recently worked in Antarctica. More recently, when skiing in the Big Sky area, Ramona and I met a surgeon who is a pioneer in robotic heart valve repair. Bozeman is a magnet for successful people with fascinating lives.
Last Friday, Ramona and I skied Bridger Bowl. On the way up we followed a Tiger Bengal RV, an impressive machine indeed. To satisfy curiosity, not because it was slow, Ramona passed it. Fortunately, when we parked it pulled in beside her Jeep.
I complimented David, the driver, and he asked if we would like to look inside. His wife, Victoria, came out and we spoke. They are about forty and are spending the season skiing North America, usually staying in their RV and occasionally stopping in a motel.
We asked them to join us for dinner at our place. They accepted. What luck! An amazing couple indeed. They are remarkably talented and successful. Ramona and I speculated on their lives while riding the chair lift. Surely they are serious high-end ski bums. Trust funders? No, we learned at dinner, they came from modest families and won the high human capital lottery.
They graduated from state universities, David from Illinois, Victoria from Houston. After three years as a ski bum in Snowmass, David then attended Stanford Law School. Victoria attended the University of Texas School of Law. Each clerked for federal judges and independently joined a nationally respected law firm where they met. Both made partner in less than four years, a remarkable achievement. Each year after making partner, they together made around $1.5 million dollars annually. (Knowing about such firms, this may be low. They are modest.) Then what? We are especially interested in their story for this summer FREE is producing seminars for federal judge clerks.
They quit law! Why, I asked. They answered, to have the freedom to pursue their vision of the good life. In addition to skiing, they mountain bike, climb, kayak, rock climb, surf, and enjoy good wine and food. Their website shows much of this. If they lived in Montana they would be candidates for State Champion Fun Hogs. However they are moving to New Zealand. Here is their website account:
We are David and Victoria, two adventurers traveling North America in our 4×4 camper — nicknamed Tigger. We stopped wearing suits and other fancy clothes when we retired on March 1, 2013. We don’t miss it at all.
Our plans for now include visiting our wonderful friends, eating lots of great food, and being outdoors as often as possible. We will eventually settle in New Zealand, where we’ve obtained residency. Although we thought we’d move in early 2014, we’re enjoying this nomadic life and may not settle down again for a while . . .
We spent the last few months of 2013 in Africa, exploring Uganda, Rwanda, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. The rock climbing in Namibia and South Africa was outstanding, and we loved seeing the animals.
We’re now skiing in the Rockies and Canada for the 2013-2014 winter, and then heading to Costa Rica for April and May. After that, we’ll continue rock climbing, mountain biking, and paddleboarding until we depart for New Zealand in July.
And they have carefully thought about New Zealand. The move is not an impulse. They don't seem alienated from America nor enchanted by it. Their proposed move is a rational calculation, one many of my friends would understand.
I asked if I could write about their yet incomplete saga. Sure, both responded. Use our names but don't mention the identity of our firm. I agreed. This doesn't matter to the meat of my account; the mix of high human capital plus deferred gratification is well rewarded.
Clerking for an Article III federal judge is a harbinger of lawyer success. First, one is hired as a firm's associate. This necessitates a great many grueling hours. Victoria once billed a 3,200-hour year. That's an 80-hour workweek.
After making partner, both lived in hotels for many weeks during normal years and for multiple months when trying cases. And they tried a lot of cases. This amount of travel is inherently hard on multiple dimensions no mater how luxurious ones accommodations and meals. Consider how difficult it is to find time to workout--and be separated from ones spouse. (BTW, Victoria is beautiful and Ramona says David is attractive.) They had quite enough--of everything.
They had conscientiously saved after becoming partners, normally 70% to 80% of take-home pay. They bought and lived in a 450 square foot guesthouse while renting out the main house. Their main luxury expense was foreign travel. While enjoying adventures, they also began evaluating why they were still practicing law and, if they weren't, what they wanted to do and where they'd like to live. They decided on gaining permanent residence in New Zealand.
For people in their fortunate circumstances, this was ideal. New Zealand permanent residents hold permanent visas but are not citizens of New Zealand. They may remain in New Zealand indefinitely and have health care and social security benefits. The visa holder may leave and re-enter New Zealand freely. The visa is available for those who make a $1,500,000 (about $1,200,000 US) four-year investment in New Zealand, and this includes government bonds that currently pay nearly 4 percent.
New Zealand is roughly the size of Montana and has about four times our population, some 4,000,000 people--and nearly ten times as many sheep as people. Victoria and David have found several towns they are considering on the ocean, near skiing, and with an airport. This implies good food and very good living indeed.
It is obvious we like and admire this young couple. I wish they had found truly satisfying, not merely financially rewarding careers. Meeting such individuals makes me appreciate even more the blessing of having the vision Ramona and I share, fostering the conjunction of responsible liberty, ecology, and prosperity. Unlike a billion dollar case, that job is never finished.
Given their preferences and opportunities, it seems they made an excellent choice. Good for them--but unfortunate for us Americans. The reason for this sad answer is clear: we suffer a great loss when people with their qualities leave. I hope they return.
(Only for Objectivists, Paleo-Conservatives, libertarians, and Rand Paul supporters)
"Galt's Luxurious Gulch"
Ayn Rand published Atlas Shrugged in 1957. It is driven by America's most productive and creative citizens bailing out; they mysteriously disappeared to Galt's Gulch in Colorado.
When a friend suggested she write a novel, Rand replied, "What if I went on strike? What if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?" Rand then created a fiction exploring the morality of rational self-interest. What happens when the people "of the mind" go on strike? When Atlas shrugged the nations' viability spiraled ever downward toward ultimate collapse. In her novel the truant business and intellectual leaders wait it out in the Gulch and plan America's rejuvenation.
Although the book received overwhelmingly negative reviews, it has remained hugely popular and influential. Given the strong authoritarian, collectivist, redistributionist, and increasingly bureaucratic trends in America, the book rings true to many alert citizens. Rand preciously described a government run in accord with the principles of Public Choice economics; a field created nearly a decade after her book was published. (I had the great luck to be there at creation. The field had not yet taken and branded the name Public Choice. Initially, the field was "Papers in Non-Market Decision-making". That name did not pass the market test.)
However compelling her fiction, I can't imagine a world in which its non-government leaders vanish and then coalesce in some remote location with the goal of rejuvenating the nation. Such behavior is inconsistent with both Public Choice and common sense. Aside from those in the military, only a small minority will sacrifice personal well being to generate public benefits. And even that small proportion diminishes as government becomes more predatory.
This brings me to one of the best pieces of political economy I've read. Ever. It is Daniel Chirot's introduction to The Crisis of Leninism and the Decline of the Left: The Revolutions of 1989 (Univ. of Washington Press, 1991). His title gives the specific context; it isn't relevant here. But the generalizations are right on target. Here are selections from page 22: "...the fundamental causes of revolutionary instability will be moral.....the professional classes, the intellectuals...set the tone of political change."
Here is the key point: when the elites lose faith in the value and superiority of their national culture and the integrity of its institutions, that system is doomed. The question becomes when, not if. Successful individuals who elect exit don't collect in Galt's Gulch and plan renewal. Rather, they retreat. They attend to their recreational, artistic, and other interests while monitoring and assuring their financial capacities to enjoy life.
Some remain highly constructive while biding their time and insulating themselves in place. Others relocate to a less taxing and less bureaucratically hostile environment. They may be highly productive in a new location. Perhaps they buy a seat on a Montana lifeboat. Some contemplate moving to New Zealand. A few do. We'll miss them.